Premature ovarian failure is sometimes referred to as premature menopause, but the two conditions aren’t the same? Women with premature ovarian failure can have irregular or occasional periods for years and might even become pregnant. Women with premature menopause stop having periods and can’t become pregnant.
Premature ovarian failure — also known as primary ovarian insufficiency — is a loss of normal function of your ovaries before age 40. If your ovaries fail, they don’t produce normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs regularly. Infertility is a common result.
Signs and symptoms of premature ovarian failure are similar to those of going through menopause and are typical of estrogen deficiency. They include:
- Irregular periods (amenorrhea)
- Difficulty conceiving
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Irritability or difficulty concentrating
- Decreased sexual desire
When to see a doctor
If you’ve missed your period for three months or more, see your doctor to help determine the cause. You can miss your period for a number of reasons — including pregnancy, stress, or a change in diet or exercise habits — but it’s best to get evaluated whenever your menstrual cycle changes.
Even if you don’t mind not having periods, it’s advisable to see your doctor to find out what’s causing the change. Low estrogen levels can lead to bone loss.
- Chromosomal defects.
- An immune system response to ovarian tissue (autoimmune disease).
- Unknown factors.
Factors that increase your risk of developing premature ovarian failure include:
- Risk rises between the ages of 35 and 40, although younger women and adolescents can develop the condition.
- Family history.Having a family history of premature ovarian failure increases your risk of developing this disorder.
- Multiple ovarian surgeries. Ovarian endometriosis or other conditions requiring repeated surgeries on the ovaries increases the risk of premature ovarian failure.
Complications of premature ovarian failure include:
- Inability to get pregnant may be the most troubling complication of premature ovarian failure, although in rare cases, pregnancy is possible until the eggs are depleted.
- The hormone estrogen helps maintain strong bones. Women with low levels of estrogen have an increased risk of developing weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis), which are more likely to break than healthy bones.
- Depression or anxiety.The risk of infertility and other complications arising from low estrogen levels causes some women to become depressed or anxious.
- Heart disease.Early loss of estrogen might increase your risk.
- Lack of estrogen can contribute to this in some people.